Texas falters against Tennessee, suffers first loss of season

Drew King

A layup from senior guard Ariel Atkins with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter left Texas down 73-69. After a free throw from Tennessee freshman guard Anastasia Hayes, Atkins hit a jumper to cut the lead to three with 1:41 on the clock.

The Longhorns couldn’t keep the momentum.

Atkins took a hard screen early in the fourth and was helped off the court and to the locker room. She returned in the last three minutes to help spark a near comeback, but fell short as Texas suffered its first loss of the season to the No. 11 Lady Volunteers, 82-75.

The Longhorns’ rally was stagnated by a sudden lack of depth. Junior forward Jordan Hosey suffered an injury in the third quarter and did not return. Transfer junior forward Jatarie White, senior forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau and senior guard Brooke McCarty all fouled out in the fourth.

In minutes, Texas was left with a short bench and without four of its top seven leaders.

“We went small for a little bit, and that’s not something that we’ve worked on very much,” head coach Karen Aston said. “We have some players that had not been in this situation before and were asked to do some things they’ve probably never done, or haven’t been asked to do here at Texas.”

Prior to Sunday’s matchup, Texas ranked second in the nation with 93 points per game. The Longhorns were also 11th in the nation in field goal percentage at just under 50 percent, but shot just 36.8 percent from the field against the Lady Volunteers.

Atkins led the team with 21 points and added four rebounds and three steals. She was complimented by junior guard Lashann Higgs, who tallied 15 points on seven of 15 shooting. But the inexperienced small-ball lineups struggled against Tennessee’s physical play.

Texas labored to box out defenders and stop the Lady Volunteers from getting easy buckets inside the paint. A number of miscues during inbound plays also made up a large chunk of the Longhorns’ 16 turnovers.

“I just think we need to get tougher,” Atkins said. “We need to get stronger personally, just my opinion. I would say, both physically and mentally.”

The Lady Volunteers shot over 40.3 percent from the field and led or tied Texas in almost every category. Tennessee was led by senior wing Jaime Nared, who had 23 points to go along with 13 rebounds. She was helped by redshirt senior center Mercedes Russell, who had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

“I will say that, as a team, we have a lot to work on,” Higgs said. “Tennessee was just tougher today. We just have a lot to work on. We have to get back in the gym, keep working and try to fix our mistakes.”

Texas entered the Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville as the No. 2 team in the country with a 7–0 record. The loss marks the first time since 2013 that the Longhorns have lost to Tennessee.  The Lady Volunteers lead the all-time series over Texas, 25–14.

Tennessee improved to 10–0 and will likely receive a boost in next week’s AP Poll.

Texas takes the floor next on Wednesday night in a home matchup with Northwestern State. Tipoff is slated for 7:00 p.m. at the Frank Erwin Center.